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AAU students receive 3 units of credit for participating in an online group directed study (801) or a thesis forum (802+), and they are expected to spend at least 9 hours per module on work related to this class. This means that students must invest:

  • 3 hours in active participation in the online learning system and
  • an additional 6 hours on their own independent work outside the online environment.

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You, as the instructor, must structure the activities in the online discussion so that students have three hours’ worth of meaningful work to complete there for each module.

In group-directed-study classes with substantial online content, these online activities will necessarily follow the modules, readings, assignments, and discussion topics already defined. However, many online group-directed-study and thesis-forum classes have minimal online content, and in these classes you will need to create activities for each module. The below suggestions are intended to help you develop appropriate activities for your group-directed-study and thesis-forum students.

Suggested Activities

In an online group directed study or a thesis forum, students’ online work will typically consist of two main activities:

  • posting their work-in-progress and discussing it with their instructor and classmates and
  • participating in regular discussions of topics relevant to their projects and/or professional development.

Reminder: You must set up a “topic” for each task/activity you assign.

Reviewing Work-In-Progress

Since students will be working on one or more projects throughout the semester, it will be important for them to post their work-in-progress regularly. Here are some suggestions and resources that can help with this process:

  • Set up an individual topic for each student (title the topic with the student’s name), where s/he can submit work throughout the semester. Use these individual topics for reviewing each student’s progress, offering feedback and answering questions about her/his individual project.
    Resource: Guidelines for setting up project-based classes
  • At the beginning of the semester, ask each student to define her/his goals for the semester, along with a proposed timeline. Have students post this information in their individual topics, so it can serve as a guide throughout the semester. At certain points, it may be useful to revisit his/her plan with each student—and to revise it, as needed.
  • Hold individual meetings with students in a virtual office, and then post recordings of these sessions in the online learning system. Ask students to post their work in the LMS after each meeting, along with a written summary of the meeting — including notes on what they learned from the instructor's critique and how they plan to proceed from here.
    Resource: Request an Online Office
  • At certain points in the semester, set up a topic for a group critique. Ask all your students to re-post some of their work in this shared topic and have students review and offer feedback on one another’s work.
    Resource: Peer Critiques

Topics for Discussion

Group-directed-study and thesis-forum classes offer a great opportunity to help students think through the broader issues that will affect their professional development as artists and designers. Below are a few discussion prompts that you might find useful. Note that you might want to use some of these topics several times over the course of a semester.

  • What are your sources of inspiration?
    Post something that inspires you — a work of art, a bio of an artist or designer, a news article, etc. — and explain specifically what you find inspiring and why. Ask students to do the same and to discuss.
  • Share useful and relevant readings.
    Post an article or a link to a book — or summarize a key idea — that you have found helpful in your creative or professional work. Explain why it was useful and how it helped you. Ask students to do the same. Ask each student to read the article suggested by a classmate and to post a response to it.
  • How do you plan and track your progress?
    In a group-directed-study or thesis-forum class, a student’s main task is to make progress on one or more projects. How do students know whether they’re making appropriate progress? At the beginning of the semester, ask them to devise (and post) a system for tracking their own work — including a breakdown of the various tasks they need to accomplish and a schedule for their work (with key milestones). Once they review each other’s systems, given them an opportunity to revise their own system. Have them use their own (revised) systems to assess what they actually accomplish over the course of the semester. Discuss how their system helped them in their work this term and how it might serve them in their professional careers. What revisions might still be needed to make their systems more useful?
  • Where does your time go?
    Everyone struggles with time management to some degree. One key step in taking charge of your time is to understand how you spend the hours you devote to your professional work. Ask students to document in detail how they spend their project time each week — how much time is devoted to each task? After a few weeks, ask students to review and assess their use of time. Are they surprised by any aspect of their time use? Are they spending their time on the most important aspects of their work or is too much time “frittered away” on minor tasks? Can they think of ways to make their work efficient? (If desired, this discussion could also include consideration of what a designer bidding on a project or — an artist putting a price on a piece — needs to consider.)
  • Who are your classmates?
    Taking classes offers students the chance to begin developing the professional network that will support them through their careers. To create more opportunities for students to get to know their classmates, post some optional topics with icebreaker questions to get students talking together. This can be a great way to start the semester off or to rekindle energy after a break.
    Resource: Icebreakers & Refreshers

  • What are your resources?
    Resources come in many forms: from equipment and materials to studio space, from financial support to time management strategies, from friends who will brainstorm with you, to peers who will give you honest feedback, mentors who support and teach you, and colleagues who could collaborate with you... Ask students to think about and begin identifying the resources that they will be able to draw on as they move into a professional career or start a business. Where are the gaps? How might they go about finding or developing the resources they lack? In what ways might they be(come) resources for one another?
  • What are you struggling with?
    Share some of your own challenges as an artist/designer. Ask students to discuss their own struggles — in the current semester or in general — and to offer one another support and suggestions.
  • What do other people think of your project?
    Students working toward a professional career need to have some sense of how a potential audience might receive their work. Ask students to do some research to learn more about this. They might identify other professionals in the field and ask them for feedback and advice, or identify a target audience for their work and do some market research (interviews, focus groups...), gather feedback from an online network, etc. The idea is to broaden their understanding of how their work is received. Have students post a description of their research and their findings — and discuss what additional research they need to do, as well as what changes, if any, they might make in their project in light of their research.

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